Will Net Neutrality Ruling Impact UC Services?

13 Jan 2014

The U.S. Appeals Court today struck down the 2011 FCC Rules that all Internet traffic must be treated equally by Internet Service Providers. The regulations were challenged by Verizon based on the FCC not having a congressional mandate to regulate the Internet. The impact of the court's ruling may be significant, leading to tiered pricing models, and the virtual "blocking" of content and services that are not favored by the ISP. While there is not yet direct evidence to support that this will change things, it may have a dramatic impact on certain services in the future.

As Unified Communications, SIP and VoIP are all dependent on getting a reasonable service delivery capability to enable quality real-time experiences outside of the enterprise network, this ruling is of great interest to those of us in the UC community. A service provider/ISP could decide to relegate all UDP/VoIP traffic to a low class of service, with explicit or random disruptions in the traffic. Explicit disruptions could come though limiting the bandwidth available for those services in a specific plan. Or disruptions could occur as the non-service provider/ISP real-time traffic is no afforded the class and regular congestion causes random issues. If real-time traffic is relegated to a low level queue with dramatically reduced buffers, RED or other network processes may impact packet delivery. If the user pays for a "guaranteed service", that traffic may be put into the higher level queues, albeit for a price.

For all of the UC services that enable external use; remote agents, mobile users, etc, the ability to use an available IP service may be reduced if it is now necessary to have a premium service to get reasonable voice or video quality. This may have a significant impact on Cloud IPT, contact Center, and UC services as those that are not delivered by the access ISP are dependent on the Internet to deliver their packets to and from their customers. If a customer's ISP requires a premium access service to enable real-time traffic to third parties, this is an additional cost that must be added to the Cloud service. Verizon was the lead in the action against the FCC's net neutrality order, indicating in oral arguments last fall that it would like to pursue different service pricing models. Last September, Verizon lawyer Helgi Walker said, "I'm authorized to state from my client today that but for these rules we would be exploring those types of arrangements,". If this is the case, we may see a new pricing tier on Internet access from Verizon that is required for third party SIP or for Cloud UC for examples.

What is clear from this ruling is that the assumption that any Internet Service/User has a "given right" to use the Internet in an equal/unconstrained way is not the current rule of the land. While there are very good arguments about why the management of traffic and bandwidth, latency and packet loss in a structured way can optimize overall performance, this ruling opens the door to a wide variety of new pricing and delivery models, not all of which may be helpful for users of the services nor create competition or innovation in services. The challenges of managing the competing interests of the service providers/ISPs, the consumers, businesses, the content providers, and new applications and services will be significant. At this point, unless there is an override at the Supreme Court or congressional action, Net Neutrality is not the rule in the US today. While it is clear that the service providers/ISPs firmly believe that they need the capability to manage and price traffic to have a profitable business model, the impact on innovation may be significant if this eliminates the opportunity for next generation services to be widely adopted without users paying for additional services from their service provider/ISP. We all need to watch this space with interest.


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